DeSmog approached all 10 organisations for which it added profiles to the Agribusiness Database, as part of an investigation into the meat industry’s “climate-washing”. They are: Vion Food Group, Danish Crown, JBS, Tyson, European Livestock Voice, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, Animal Agriculture Alliance, North American Meat Institute, European Roundtable on Beef Sustainability and the International Meat Secretariat.
The responses DeSmog received are published in full below.
Earlier this year, JBS became the first major global meat and poultry company to commit to net zero emissions by 2040, the most ambitious commitment of its kind in our sector. As a leading global food company, we recognize the importance of reducing our environmental impact to combat climate change. To support our net zero ambition, we have committed to reduce direct emissions from our operations by 30 percent by 2030 and we will invest more than $1 billion in emission reduction projects over the next decade alone.
Our net-zero commitment is inclusive of Scope 3 or value chain emissions not directly under our control. As a global company with complex value chains, we understand the challenge of establishing Scope 3 emission reduction targets. While this is a challenge that companies of a similar size also face throughout our industry and other important sectors, we are taking decisive steps to set credible Scope 3 emissions targets. We have already begun the process of setting Science Based Targets (SBTs) as part of our work with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and look forward to transparently sharing our progress as our work continues.
International Meat Secretariat (IMS)
IMS does not make specific (quantitative) claims about emissions for meat companies or any particular organization — the main role of IMS is to promote sustainability, not certify or police it. Our commitment for actions to reduce climate impact do not rely on predictions from any particular model, but rather on concrete actions that can be applied in real life. Your criticism of the GLEAM model and comparison to GRAIN/IATP results should be taken up directly with the FAO.
Concerning the development of GLEAM and whether “industry has a seat at the table”, IMS input to the GLEAM model is as part of a multi-stakeholder partnership in which governments, private sector, and civil society and NGOs are equal partners. Importantly, the chair of LEAP rotates every year between government, private sector, and civil society/NGO. The details of this partnership, known as the “Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance Partnership”, LEAP, and its governance can be found here.
The main output of LEAP is a set of guidelines that seek “to improve the environmental sustainability of the livestock sector through harmonized methods, metrics, and data”.
The GLEAM model itself is entirely developed, constructed, and maintained by FAO staff and researchers. GLEAM documentation can be found here.
IMS works in close collaboration with FAO on projects related to continuous improvement and sustainability in livestock, including the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL) [an FAO-led multi-stakeholder partnership].
According to the GASL: “The livestock sector performs critical development functions through its contribution to nutritious diets, economic growth and livelihoods”. In other words, livestock is much more than just production of animal sources foods. There is a substantial body of evidence that meat and livestock sourced food will be needed to feed the growing population, in particular in vulnerable people in poor and developing countries, while recognizing that reductions in such consumption among some segments of the population in richer countries would be desirable. These issues are addressed in detail in inter alia reports from the HLPE [the High Level Panel of Experts, an expert panel] of the UN Committee on World Food Security, in particular Sustainable agricultural development for FSN: what roles for livestock? (2016) and Nutrition and food systems (2017).
The role of livestock in low-income countries has recently been highlighted by the EAT-Lancet Commission themselves: “Because many regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, still face severe burdens of undernutrition and malnutrition, and growing children often do not obtain adequate quantities of nutrients from plant source foods alone”.
When contacted by DeSmog, the IMS requested the link to a widely criticised study describing the transition to a more plant-based diet as an ineffective climate mitigation strategy. After providing the study, the IMS made no further comment except that the material provided by DeSmog had been passed on to its “various committees”.
We do not claim to be perfect yet, but many companies and organisations are committed to continuous improvement. The same effort is being asked of all sectors of the economy. According to the FAO, a 30 percent reduction of GHG emissions would be possible, for example, if producers in a given system, region and climate adopted the technologies and practice currently used by the 10 percent of producers with the lowest emission intensity.
Livestock producers are making considerable efforts to improve feeding (such as using red algae), genetics, management systems so that more meat is producer from fewer animals – with reduced GHG emissions. In Australia, significant progress has already been made, and data from the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Green House Gases on methane from livestock. Numerous case studies prepared by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) demonstrate how livestock production systems adapted to their very diverse settings can contribute to livelihoods, environmental sustainability (including GHG emissions) and human health. But IMS and its members fully recognize that we all need to do better.
There is no single silver bullet solution, we will need a variety of technologies. The LEAP document for assessing nutrient cycles can be found here.
All sectors, including agriculture will need to contribute to significantly reducing their climate impact. This is why the IMS is collaborating with international organizations such as FAO, OIE, Codex Alimentarius, etc. in a process of continuous improvement. But, as noted above, significant efforts are already underway (and have been for a long time) in IMS member countries to reduce the climate impact, recognizing that methane from livestock operations is a short lived GHG (compared to CO2) and pasture fed systems regenerate in terms of carbon sequestration.
Scaling is not just making bigger, it must also be accompanied by increases in productivity and other innovations. Innovation in livestock production systems means being able to produce more with less. For example, increasing productivity has, in some countries and production systems, meant that fewer animals are required to produce the same amount of animal source foods as before, as evidenced, for example, in Australia and the US. Or moving forward, produce more with the same herd size.
Each country has its own particular mix of production based on natural resources, technical expertise, etc. Targets for emissions, whether under the Paris Agreement or other future negotiations at the UNFCCC are established by country, but then each country chooses how to manage within their domestic industries. The world trade system, albeit with imperfections to be sorted out at the World Trade Organisation WTO) and member states, means it does not make sense (economically, or in environmental terms), for each country to be self-sufficient in production of any particular product. This means that inevitably, each country will have its own profile for emissions.
Most existing studies are based on the fallacy that nutritional quality can be assessed by comparing weight or calories across food groups. A kilogram of meat is not equivalent to a kilogram of plant protein, in that it contains a cocktail of amino acids, vitamins and other micronutrients in the appropriate proportions for human nutrition. Similarly, more calories are not always better (e.g. many commercial beverages are high in sugar/calories). Most importantly, optimizing nutrition is not a question of one food group versus another, rather it is the appropriate mix. No food group in isolation is problematic, rather it is the overall diet that needs to be better managed. Concerning grazing land, most cannot be converted to crops or other useful activities. It is sensible to use this resource for livestock, if appropriate measures are taken to account for climate and other environmental concerns. This is what we are trying to achieve in the GASL working group on restoring value to grasslands.
IMS is far from alone in this analysis [that the EAT-Lancet report is “elitist, biased, and not scientifically well-founded”]. Anthropologist’s viewpoint. Science: paper 1, paper 2, paper 3. Affordability: paper 1
According to this research, “Livestock play a key role in the bio-economy by converting forages, crop residues and agricultural by-products into high-value products and services”
When contacted by DeSmog, the IMS requested the link to the study showing that “plant-based diets are also more climate friendly when they are wasted.” After providing the study, the IMS made no further comment except that the material provided by DeSmog had been passed on to its “various committees”.
Livestock should be produced, as we do for most commodities, where there is comparative advantage (land, other resources such as water, feed, etc.) In this way global impact on the environment can be minimized. As with all commodities (crops, smartphones, etc.) trade benefits everyone. We do agree with FAO on the need to better support small-scale livestock farmers in developing countries, for example, through adoption of better technology and other innovations appropriate to their specific context. Crucially, in ways that improve their livelihoods so that they can move out of subsistence farming. More effort is clearly needed here, especially in terms of technology transfer, education and training, dissemination of information and pilot/demonstration projects.
A recently released United Nations nutrition discussion paper “Livestock-derived foods and sustainable healthy diets” concludes that “Livestock- derived foods can have consequences for human health if they are absent from or deficient in the diets of certain vulnerable groups, or if consumed to excess by others”. Similarly this study concludes “Animal-source foods, particularly liver, small fish, eggs, and ruminant meat,are the best sources of the highest priority micronutrients but likely have major obstacles to increased consumption, including availability, affordability, access, knowledge, and cultural preferences.”
When contacted by DeSmog, the IMS requested the link to the study showing that meat-free diets can be nutritionally adequate and support weight management. After providing the study, the IMS made no further comment except that the material provided by DeSmog had been passed on to its “various committees”.
We welcome the opportunity to have a constructive dialogue about solutions to climate change and meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development goals.
In this respect, we do in fact encourage to “think hard and deeply about the meat industry”. We do not claim to be perfect. And we recognize the need to improve, find more or better solutions. We engage in critical discussions in various international fora, to maximize the benefits and minimize the negative impacts.
Constructive criticism is welcome, and indeed necessary in order to advance. Moreover, as with other sectors, any assessment must take an integrated and holistic view as the hallmark of achieving sustainability: that means looking at the environmental (including impacts on climate change), socio-economic (livelihoods), and nutrition (health) impacts, in specific country and regional contexts. Trade-offs are inevitably involved but searching for best (or even win-win-win) solutions, informed by actual practices in countries, is key to the IMS stance, based on robust evidence. Our strong belief, based on the science, is that livestock and animal source food benefits people and the planet: livestock is a valuable contribution to sustainability.
The scientific consensus (as embodied in the UNFCCC) calls for urgent action to combat climate change. IMS is participating, as an NGO, in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We are planning a side event at COP26: Mainstreaming solutions to climate change through livestock: opportunities for global action (if our proposal is accepted).
IMS recognizes the shared responsibility the livestock and meat industry has, as part of the food system, to contribute significantly to reducing climate and environmental impact. We are part of the problem, we are also part of the solution. It is in this way that the meat industry can be the heroes in this discussion.